Corn Lily Continued

Continuing the discussion of corn lily (Veratrum californicum) from 12-29-2017:

The three-celled ovary of corn lily (Veratrum californicum) matures into a three-lobed capsules. Each of the three cells in the fruit contains several narrow, compressed seeds with broad margins or wings.

If ingested, corn lily is poisonous to cattle, horses and other mammals. Native Americans would dip their arrows in poisonous extracts of corn lily. This plant contains teratogens, substances which cause birth defects because of their toxic effects on embryos and fetuses. Corn lily also has cardiac sedative qualities which can cause loss of consciousness or death. Powdered corn lily root concoctions are used even today as insecticides. Common wisdom is “Do Not Mess With This Plant”.

Counter to this warning it is interesting that indigenous people used corn lily medicinally – obviously carefully and with great respect for its toxicity. In very dilute concentrations corn lily was historically used as an analgesic, anti-convulsive, anti-rheumatic, contraceptive and to treat a variety of ailments such as sore throat and snakebites. Even today the pharmaceutical industry uses drugs derived from corn lily to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure.

Reportedly the shoots of corn lily and very young plants are the most toxic, toxicity diminishing with age and not present after frosts. I will continue to respect corn lily even after the first frost.

These corn lily fruits were on plants along the Pacific Crest Trail near Drakesbad in the Warner Valley Area (Lassen Volcanic National Park CA).


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